Socialism Reconsidered

June 20th, 2017

I have always been struck by a major difference between the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in the United Sates: the way clergy are paid. In England, all clergy receive basically the same salary or “stipend;” there are minor increases over the base for bishops and for clergy in London.

This wage is not high–equalling around $40,000 a year. A clergy family of four would qualify for public assistance, though they do receive housing in most cases.

Despite the low stipends, I have heard many English clergy claim their system is morally superior to the American scheme, whereby clergy in affluent parishes can make much higher salaries than those in poor areas. But a recent book by Dean Martyn Percy of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford claims that the Church of England would be rejuvenated by the American system, which would reward initiative and encourage church growth.

This is not to deny the moral value of the egalitarian formula. But, practically speaking, giving all clergy a substandard wage buys equality without fairness–and it does little to recruit new young clergy, which the Church of England desperately needs. At a time of increasingly left-of-center politics in the Episcopal Church hierarchy, the “capitalist” proposal by the very prominent liberal, Dean Percy is intriguing. —J. Douglas Ousley

Homeless in Murray Hill–III

June 13th, 2017

My first boss in the church would often say, if you complimented him on one of his sermons, “I always preach to myself.”

I certainly do the same. And I find the topics of my sermons regularly hit home in unexpected ways.

As it happens, I preached last Sunday on the problem of the homeless in our neighborhood. Lo and behold, two days later, I found myself arguing with a gentleman who has been sleeping regularly on our property. I suggested as I have many times that he find some other place to sleep, since the neighbors have complained. Although the man is young and apparently healthy, he appears to have significant mental issues. He certainly gets very angry at me.

What should I do? I can’t let the church become a campground. This man needs far more help with his life than I can give him. He is also potentially a danger to passers-by. I have contacted a friend in the local police precinct, but I know the police have little authority over the homeless.

What should I do? Nothing in my sermon answered that question. Suggestions welcome!–J. Douglas Ousley

Homeless in Murray Hill–II

June 5th, 2017

I’m preaching an old sermon this Sunday; it’s entitled, “Street People.” The sermon is about the Good Samaritan parable and how it might be applied to daily life. This message got a fair amount of feedback at the time, and a version was eventually published in the Christian Century magazine.

I rarely repeat sermons, as the context of sermons changes so rapidly that God’s message to a given moment may not apply to a different moment, even a few years later.

But I am curious to see how my early-90’s thoughts stand the test of time today, when we in Manhattan are facing a new flood of street people. Pope Francis recently had some noble words about always engaging in some way with beggars on the street. Many of us (who spend a lot more time navigating popular thoroughfares than the Pope does) may find his advice inadequate.

That said, I am still thinking about the proper Christian response to people on the street. —J. Douglas Ousley

Homeless in Murray Hill–I

May 22nd, 2017

I have been thinking a lot about the increasing numbers of beggars and homeless persons on the streets of our neighborhood, especially in the area between Murray Hill and Penn Station. I saw someone the other day on 37th Street between Madison and Fifth Avenue who was actually sleeping on a foldout bed!

There are so many issues here. I recognize that many of the beggars travel in from other areas because there are so many tourists here who will help them; I’m skeptical about the neediness of some of them and the veracity of their signs, since they appear young and in good health. I have noticed how many of the people sleeping on the street are also in their twenties or thirties and appear able-bodied.

Even so, there are many older people who are mentally troubled or obviously disoriented. And it’s hard to say that anyone who is sitting on the sidewalk begging to spending the night there is to be envied.

The problem is getting much worse in our neighborhood. I plan to preach on this topic on June 11 and reflect further on this troubling issue. —J. Douglas Ousley

Life Itself

May 9th, 2017

The newest Supreme Court Justice, Neil Gorsuch is the first Episcopalian justice in some time (Justice Stephen Breyer’s daughter Chloe is an Episcopal priest in Manhattan). I have no particular comments on his previous judicial opinions, but I think that his book, The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia warrants notice by Gorsuch’s fellow Episcopalians.

Gorsuch warns of the slippery slope along which assisted suicide slides into homicide and then murder. If you think that’s extremist, consider that in the Netherlands (the country where euthanasia has been legal the longest), an elderly woman suffering from dementia was held down by her family until a doctor could administer enough drugs to kill her. Also in Holland, a young woman in her twenties was given permission to euthanize herself because she was suffering the traumas of earlier sexual abuse. A new study in Canada advises that the national health care system there could save millions of dollars if people were allowed to kill themselves.

I don’t deny that assisted suicide and mercy killing are complicated issues. I often say that if I become senile or disabled, I want to be put on an ice floe, like the Eskimos. But, still, for Christians, life is a gift of God. Since the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away, we should be very careful before we do some of the taking. —J. Douglas Ousley

Battleship Crew

May 1st, 2017

The Church Times of London often carries stories of “church planting”–the establishing of new congregations, often in existing churches whose congregations have dwindled.

Critics of these efforts say they merely draw people from other congregations who like the enthusiastic style of worship. One planter, the Rev. Dr. Tim Matthew responded: “I’ve always tried to maintain a very high bar on existing Christians joining. We say here that we’re a battleship not a cruise ship–we don’t take passengers–so it you’re on view, you’re on the crew, and there’s a job for you to do.”

Now Dr. Matthew would probably admit seekers who weren’t church members as “passengers” on the ship of the Church because these folks need time to figure out what it means to be a committed Christian. But I think the image is appropriate for long-time parishioners. They shouldn’t just see themselves as along for the ride, looking to get spiritual comforts without giving anything back. The parish isn’t a cruise ship, it’s a battleship–fighting the good fight for Christ. —J. Douglas Ousley


April 26th, 2017

Recently, I was surprised to notice one of our most senior members enjoying a new smart phone. She hadn’t struck me as being particularly tech-savvy, so I asked her how she was making out with the device. She said she was doing OK, thanks to instruction that she had received from one of our younger members during a Senior Resource Day.

This is one of many examples of how our ministry reaches out to people and improves their lives. Often, we can’t measure what we’ve accomplished. It’s impossible to track how many victims of trafficking are discovered and helped as a result of our advocacy of training of staff in hotels. We can’t know how many people have been cheered by flowers blooming in our church garden.

But whether or not we can take credit for our ministry, we can be thankful that we are given occasions to serve in God’s name. —J. Douglas Ousley


Incarnation in the News

April 19th, 2017

Twice in two days. What a great Easter week for Incarnation.

On Easter Monday, The NY Times published a fine article that mentioned our outreach ministry to combat human trafficking. Our Associate Rector, the Rev. Adrian Dannhauser was quoted in the piece.

On Easter Tuesday, The Times published a wonderful op-ed piece by columnist David Brooks. He discusses how Incarnation Camp was and is for him a “thick” institution. Brooks is a strong supporter of the camp, which was founded by the Church of the Incarnation in 1886, and he sits on our Board (of which I am Vice-President.)

So, as the Easter music is still ringing in our ears, we are reminded of how much of the Church’s work goes on outside the church. —J. Douglas Ousley

Most Reverend

April 13th, 2017

At a clergy luncheon recently, I found myself sitting at a table next to a former Archbishop of Canterbury. He was erroneously introduced as “the Most Reverend Rowan Williams;” in fact, archbishops go back to being mere bishops when they leave office. The bishop has an interesting additional title, though, which he was given upon his retirement: “the Rt. Rev. and Rt. Hon. Lord Williams of Oystermouth.”

Bishop Williams has been writing furiously since he stepped down a few years ago. One hopes he will offer a memoir of his extremely controversial time in office, when the homosexuality debate rocked the Anglican Communion and caused a number of bishops to limit their contacts with the rest of our church. For this cautious, brilliant intellectual, the harsh politics of the worldwide church must have been painful.

On the surface, at least, things seem better today. The current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby had a good deal of diplomatic experience as an international businessman. The next Lambeth Conference of Bishops in 2020 looks to be better attended than the last one.

A nice thought as we prepare for Easter. —J. Douglas Ousley

A Generational Thing

April 4th, 2017

Our Suffragan Bishop made an official visitation last Sunday. Such a visit includes a review of the seven parish registers, which list attendance, membership, etc. As the Bishop was initialing each book, I noted that we usually have more baptisms than funerals. He replied that in many parishes he visited, the reverse was true.

The Bishop thought that the preponderance of deaths over births was “a generational thing.” It is certainly true demographically that a large cohort of the members of the Episcopal Church is in the Baby Boomer category, a generation that is on its way out.

This fact seems to me to be worth pondering on a theological level. We need to be wary of imposing a 60’s era mindset on the Church of the future, just because current leaders prefer to look at the world in this way. We need to remind ourselves that the future of the Church belongs not to us but to God. —J. Douglas Ousley